Hernandez: A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen, Part 3

 

Wil Hernandez, A Spirituality of ImperfectionHernandez: A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen, Part 3

Hernandez, Wil. 2006. Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection. New York: Paulist Press. (Goto Part 2; goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Over time I find myself losing Henri Nouwen’s books. Some get lost because I lend them to friends. I forget who and they forget to return them. Others get lost because I read them at a particular stage in life and they get mixed in with other books from that stage. Still others get lost in the sense that I mix Nouwen’s ideas with my own and I forget where I got them. Writing reviews helps me sort out better what Nouwen really said and what I thought about it at the time.

In the second half of his book, Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection, Wil Hernandez focuses on 2 things: explaining Nouwen’s spirituality and describing Nouwen himself.

Spirituality of Imperfection

While the Bible describes sin as a basic human characteristic; a less judgmental pastoral response to sin interprets sin as brokenness.  The first observation is a theological statement; the second is an ethical statement that points the sinner to God in the role as Great Physician. Nouwen helped me to find this integration.

Hernandez writes:

“Henri Nouwen’s proclivity for integration represented a major step towards wholeness. On a much deeper analysis, his commitment to pursuing integrity spoke more about his heightened awareness of his fractured human condition than an obsessive drive for perfection. Nouwen’s integrative pursuit of the spiritual life never obviated but instead incorporated facets of psychological, ministerial, and theological imperfections.“(75).

One cannot be whole until one understands one’s self which implies seeing both the good and the bad. Imperfections, which typically hold us back interpersonally and professionally, are hard to look at objectively. Peering at our imperfections from different points of view aids this task of integration and clarifies our vision.  We learn more from failure than from success because failure forces us to admit and deal with our brokenness—our imperfections.

The Eucharist

Nouwen saw the Eucharist as a symbol reminding us of Christ’s physical brokenness on the cross that helps us to deal with our own brokenness (78). Once again faithful to his Catholic roots, Nouwen viewed the cross as “the compelling symbol of authentic Christian experience”. Without the suffering of Christ, the victory of Christ in resurrection is devoid of meaning (81). Suffering forces us to ask ourselves the tough questions about our own brokenness. Thus, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus asks: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26 ESV) (86)

Hernandez observes:

“the spiritual journey for Nouwen was never about perfection, but about struggling to live in a deep and meaningful relationship with God that would bear fruit in the lives of others.” (92).

Here we hear an echo of God’s blessing of Abraham:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3 ESV)

In other words, leave your comfort zone for my sake and I will bless you so that you can bless others. Facing brokenness and imperfection to minister to others quickly leads away from comfort, but also leads towards communion with Christ.

A Perfect Example of Imperfection

Why do we cheer for athletes who overcome physical handicaps to compete and win?  For me, the answer is that overcoming physical handicaps is inspiring not only to other special needs individuals but also to those of us who, in spite of having no handicaps, struggle to overcome everyday challenges of inertia and personal limitations.

Hernandez sees Nouwen as a “perfect paradigm of imperfection” for at least 3 reasons.  Nouwen was:

  • “a restless seeker”,
  • “a wounded healer”, and
  • “faithful struggler” (95).

Restless seeker

Nouwen continuously tried to resolve his loneliness (96).  He tried different experiences, such as spending seven months in the Abbey of Genesee, a Trappist monastery (97). He tried to distract his restlessness with busyness.  Hernandez writes:

Nouwen continuously tried to resolve his loneliness (96).  He tried different experiences, such as spending seven months in the Abbey of Genesee, a Trappist monastery (97). He tried to distract his restlessness with busyness.  Hernandez writes:

“Nouwen’s penchant for spreading himself thin, along with his obsessive-compulsive behavior and ‘workaholic’ drive, all seemed to conspire in bringing out the unhealthy side of his restless maneuvers.” (98)

Nouwen was ultimately restless seeking after God (99).  According to Augustine, our restlessness is planted in us by God himself—its resolution can be found therefore only in God (101).

Wounded Healer

Nouwen used his incompleteness to become a place of hospitality for others. Hernandez observes:

“Only the bruised, wounded minister can powerfully connect with those who are badly wounded” (116).

One of my first ministries, even before I had even thought of seminary, was to victims of breast cancer. My wife, Maryam, was twice afflicted with breast cancer and we both suffered miserably. Not only were we victimized by the disease, we were victimized with depression and the inability of those around us to provide any meaningful support.  My sister, Diane, later died needlessly from breast cancer because of similar issues.  My wounds gave me knowledge and street credibility for reaching out to others suffering in this same journey.  The book, Wounded Healer, was an early exposure to Nouwen which provided comfort even though I scarcely understood what it said.

Faithful Struggler

Nouwen understood implicitly the role of suffering in discipleship (118). Nouwen also understood the role of leadership as providing an example to those around us (119).  After Reaching Out, I would have to say that Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus, is the most cited in my work because it centers on the temptations of Christ.  Nouwen (1989, 7-8) sees these tests as common leadership temptations. Namely, the temptations are to be relevant (turn stone into bread), powerful (become my vassal and rule the world), and spectacular (throw yourself down and prove who you are) (Luke 4:4, 7, 9).

Assessment

Hernandez pictures Nouwen as faithfully struggling with his demons to become a Christ-figure to modern society. His commitment to celibacy (126) and service to L’Arche (viii) scream authenticity in a world more used to leaning into pain than leaning on Christ.  As in Gethsemane where Jesus said:

“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matt 26:38-39 ESV)

Nouwen was faithful in turning to God instead of yield to his pain.

May we all learn to follow his example.

References

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1989. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company. (Review: http://wp.me/p3Xeut-148).

Nouwen, Henri J.M.  2010.  Wounded Healer:  Ministry in Contemporary Society (Orig pub 1972). New York:  Image Doubleday. (Review: http://wp.me/p3Xeut-ZJ)

 

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Prayer Day 42: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Espera verano 2015
Espera verano 2015

Oh dear Lord. Thank you for answering prayer. Thank you for visions that bring comfort; for healings that relieve pain; and for your presence that instills peace in our lives. Grow my faith. In the power of your Holy Spirit, shape me in the image of your son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Oh, querido Señor, gracias por responder a la oración. Gracias por las visiones que nos confortan, gracias por la sanidad que alivia el dolor, y gracias por Tu presencia que infunde paz para nuestras vidas. Aumenta nuestra fe. En el poder del Espíritu Santo, moldéanos a imagen de Tu hijo. En el nombre de Jesús oramos. Amén.

 

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Prince of Peace

Life_in_Tension_web“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and
over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time
forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isa 9:6-7 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) as “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002) is divine attribute and mostly out of reach in the Old Testament. More typically, conflict was the norm.

In the Books of the Law, conflict between brothers is a theme repeated over and over. After the conflict between Cain and Abel, we see conflict between the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, over the birthright and inheritance (Gen 25:26-34). Later, Jacob’s sons are so jealous of the favoritism shown to their brother, Joseph, that they sell him into slavery (Gen 37:2-28). This brother’s theme clearly points, like the sublimated violence in our own time, towards an absence of shalom and the need for God.

Interestingly, when Stephen recites the Story of Israel in Acts 7, he lingers over the story of a young Moses attempting to reconcile two of his Hebrew “brothers”, but without success:

“One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, Why do you strike your companion? He answered, Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian? Then Moses was afraid, and thought, Surely the thing is known. When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.” (Exod 2:11-15 ESV)

In effect, Moses tries emulate God’s reconciliation between Cain and Abel by making peace between his brothers, but his own sin gets in the way and his reconciliation fails—a murderer cannot easily make peace!

In the Books of the Prophets, peace remains out of reach. Two dominant types of conflict emerge.

The first type of conflict is between the Nation of Israel and God. The covenant with Moses, summarized in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and reiterated in Deuteronomy 5, is repeatedly forgotten. Nevertheless, God offers a promise:

“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.” (Deut 30:1-3 ESV)

In other words, peace with God will be restored if you obey the commandments. Here is the invitation to pursuing holiness. But the destruction of Israel and the scattering of the people of Israel is also anticipated. God repeatedly sent the prophets to remind people of the covenant and to chasen the Nation of Israel to prevent this from happening.

The second type of conflict was internal to the Nation of Israel. King Solomon may have been a wise man, but he was an opulent ruler who laid a heavy tax burden on the nation. When he died and his son, Rehoboam, became king, the tribes of Israel sent delegates to the king asking him to go easy on the taxes. He asked his father’s advisers and his friends how to respond. His father’s advisers counseled lower taxes; his friends counseled higher taxes. Rehoboam decided to listen to his friends—implicitly rejecting both his father’s advisors and his father’s relationship with God. When he raised taxes, the tribes rebelled and the kingdom was split. Two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, remained loyal to Rehoboam (Judah); the other ten northern tribes rebelled to form a new kingdom (Israel). The leader of the rebellion, Jeroboam, became the king of Israel. Jeroboam was fearful that people visiting Jerusalem for religious worship would eventually return to Rehoboam so he set up alternative worship sites and recast new golden calf idols (1 Kings 12). These actions were later referred as the “sins of Jeroboam” (e.g. 1 Kings 14:16) [1]. The split of the kingdom was eventually followed by the destruction of both kingdoms and exile of many of the people.

The counterweight to conflict in the Old Testament is the emergence of messianic texts, such as Isaiah 9:6-7, that link the Messiah and heaven to the idea of shalom: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. We place a higher value on things, like shalom, that we normally lack. In the Prophet Isaiah’s vision of heaven he sees:

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isa 11:6 ESV)

The outbreak of shalom—an end to predation and the play of a little child—is a sign of God’s mighty work among us.

 

[1] Animosity between the Northern and Southern kingdoms continued until New Testament times when Jews openly discriminated against Samaritans—part of the Northern Kingdom.

REFERENCE

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

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Hernandez: A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen, Part 2

Hernandez_review_part_1_08102015Hernandez, Wil. 2006. Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection. New York: Paulist Press. (Goto part 1, goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Spirituality is a squishy word.

At one point when I was teaching adult Sunday school, I began to wonder what people really meant when they used the word, spiritual.

  • For some people, the word substituted as a new word for religious, which has, in many respects, become anachronistic.
  • For other people, spiritual means being in touch with the numinous—hearing voices, seeing visions, and interpreting the spirit world primarily from a non-Christian, non-western perspective.
  • For still others, spiritual is used as a synonym for relational—someone able to establish rapport with just about anyone or a passage in scripture offering relational insight.

Henri Nouwen’s writing on spirituality differed from the usual fare, in part, because he took spirituality seriously and, being a priest, wrote from a Christian perspective.

In his book, Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection, Wil Hernandez focuses the first half of his book reviewing Nouwen’s 3 movements of the spirit: The Journey Inward, The Journey Outward, and The Journey Upward (v). These movements follow directly from Nouwen’s analysis in Reaching Out. The second half of his book divides into a chapter interpreting Nouwen’s spirituality as a Spirituality of Imperfection and a chapter on Nouwen himself, A Perfect Example of Imperfection (v). Let me focus a bit on each of these chapters.

The Journey Inward.  For Nouwen, the journey inward consists of “reaching out to our innermost self” moving from “loneliness to solitude” (Nouwen 1975, 21). The objective here is self-knowledge, but more importantly being comfortable in one’s own skin.  A devote Christian, like Martin Luther, might wonder if all of one’s sins had been confessed (Bainton 1995, 35), but Nouwen’s interest in self-knowledge gravitated more towards how one relates to oneself.

In the psyche ward, for example, we might caution a patient from engaging in negative self-talk—an obvious example of relating to one’s self poorly.  Comfort in solitude consists of ease in spending time alone with ourselves.  This peace with ourselves makes it more likely that we can extend this hospitality others and find a place also in our hearts for God.

Hernandez finds Nouwen’s comfort in healing with the inward journey informed by his training as a psychologist.  He writes:

“As a newly trained psychological and theologian with a concern for melding psychology and theology, Nouwen’s cultural timing could not have been better.” (9)

All knowledge is God’s knowledge. Nouwen’s “pastoral bilingualism” (16) helped him seemly integrate his training and apply it without the usual academic veneer that usually poses a barrier to common understanding.  Hernandez sees this as a “search for wholeness” which does not preclude the church’s historical focus on holiness (25).

The Journey Outward.  For Nouwen, the journey outward is “reaching out to our fellow human beings” moving from “hostility to hospitality” (Nouwen 1975, 63).  Here we find ourselves engaged in ministry. Hernandez sees Nouwen combining “the ministerial tasks of healing, sustaining, and guiding” (45) and 3 shepherding functions:

“Into the overlapping roles of a pastor (one who heals the wounds of the past), a priest (one who sustains life in the present), and a prophet (one who guides others in the future)” (45).

The definitions here are clearly Nouwen’s because one normally thinks of the 3 roles anointed in the Old Testament were—the king, the priest, and the prophet—not normally defined as above[1].

In this context, hospitality is thought of as a metaphorical virtual of being open, inviting, and warm with ourselves, others, and God—a spirit of healing and welcome (Nouwen 1975, 67).  Nouwen’s use of hospitality shares a lot in common with the Hebrew concept of shalom (שָׁל֙וֹם).  In Hebrew, shalom means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10001).  Nouwen (1975, 71) writes that: “Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.”

Ministry in the context of Nouwen’s writing flows out of his embrace of communion both as a sacrament (participation directly in the divine presence) and as a paradigm for community. This was the heart of Nouwen’s own sense of spirituality (26-27). Nouwen is a Catholic priest for whom the daily mass centers on the Eucharist. Table-fellowship involves a higher level of intimacy and mysticism than is usually found in protestant circles. The movement from hostility to hospitality may ironically involve traveling a greater distance for Nouwen than for many others because it starts with a deeper spiritual starting point.

Nouwen (2006) found great meaning in Jesus’ words: “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matt. 20:22 ESV) This is because he interpreted Jesus to mean, can you accept the suffering which my ministry requires?

The Journey Upward. For Nouwen, the journey upwards is “reaching out to our God” which involves a movement “from illusion to prayer” (Nouwen 1975, 111) [2].   Part of this illusion is the illusion of immortality (Nouwen 1975, 116).  Related is the illusion of control. Prayer becomes a destination—communion with an immortal being—which as morals we cannot travel.  God must grant prayer to us as gift (Nouwen 1975, 123).

Hernandez observes:  “we all experience a gap between what we say we believe and how we live out our belief” (58).  Nouwen sees theological reflection focused on bridging this gap, saying: “a life that is not reflected upon isn’t worth living.” (59)  Elsewhere he writes that “the original meaning of the word Theology is ‘union with God in prayer’” (67).  From this perspective, the journey from illusion most obviously begins and ends with prayer.

Hernandez sees Nouwen as integrating three things in his spirituality: psychology, ministry, and theology which then correspond to movements in solitude, ministry, and prayer. This he refers to as Nouwen’s trilogy of coinherence (71).

Wil Hernandez’s book, Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection is a helpful guide to Henri Nouwen’s many books and other writings. His focus is clearly on Nouwen’s spirituality and writing, but he also talks about Nouwen as a person. Hernandez’ work is of obvious interest to Nouwen readings, especially seminarians and pastors.

In part 3 of this review I will examine the second half of Hernandez’s book which outline Nouwen’s spirituality of imperfect and a bit of his personal history.

 

[1] The king defended the nation; the priest served primarily in the temple, and the prophet reminded the nation of obligations under the covenant—not really a forecasting idea.

[2] A Calvinist would see the movement starting with God, not us.  However, Nouwen does see prayer as a gift.

REFERENCES

Bainton, Roland H.  1995. Here I Stand:  A Life of Martin Luther. New York; Meridan.

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905.  Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged (Bibleworks).

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay.

Henri J. M. Nouwen.  2006.  Can You Drink the Cup?  Notre Dame:  Ave Maria Press.  Review (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1c)

 

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Hernandez: A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen, Part 1

Hernandez_review_part_1_08102015Hernandez, Wil. 2006. Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection. New York: Paulist Press. (Goto part 2, goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sometimes we read biographies to learn about the lives of interesting people. These biographies normally shine a light into corners of life where we might normally not stray. They substitute in many respects for a castle tour or, perhaps, a dinner invitation that we never received but wished we had.

Other times we read biographies to learn more about the lives of people who have profoundly influenced us. These biographies shine a light into corners of our own lives where we live but incompletely understand. Wil Hernandez’s biography, Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection, falls squarely in this latter category.

Who was Henri Nouwen?  Nouwen is known as a Roman Catholic priest from the Utrecht, The Netherlands who wrote voluminous numbers of books on the subject of spirituality. The Henri Nouwen society summarizes his life in these words:

“Born in Nijkerk, Holland, on January 24, 1932, Nouwen felt called to the priesthood at a very young age. He was ordained in 1957 as a diocesan priest and studied psychology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen. In 1964 he moved to the United States to study at the Menninger Clinic. He went on to teach at the University of Notre Dame, and the Divinity Schools of Yale and Harvard. For several months during the 1970s, Nouwen lived and worked with the Trappist monks in the Abbey of the Genesee, and in the early 1980s he lived with the poor in Peru. In 1985 he was called to join L’Arche in Trosly, France, the first of over 100 communities founded by Jean Vanier where people with developmental disabilities live with assistants. A year later Nouwen came to make his home at L’Arche Daybreak near Toronto, Canada. He died suddenly on September 21st, 1996, in Holland and is buried in Richmond Hill, Ontario.”[1]

An open, yet discretely kept, secret among people who knew him was that he struggled with a homosexual orientation but remained celibate in keeping with his priestly vows (126).

For those unfamiliar with L’Arche Daybreak, they are a community devoted to serving “men and women with intellectual disabilities” [2].  Nouwen walked away from a brilliant career in academia, writing, and speaking to serve as the pastor to a community serving those with special needs.  For Nouwen, this commitment was “driven by a desire to close the gap between what he wrote and what he lived” (viii).

For me, L’Arche demonstrated Nouwen’s authenticity as a Christian. During my clinical pastoral education, I worked for 3 months in a psychiatric ward and another 3 months in an Alzheimer’s unit.  After a hard day in the Alzheimer’s unit one day, I remember reflecting on Nouwen’s commitment—I knew that after a season of service, I would leave the unit and return to a more typical life. Nouwen entered D’Arche, lived, and died there.  After learning about L’Arche, I never looked at Nouwen quite the same way.

What was Hernandez’ contribution to our understanding of Henri Nouwen?  In his foreword to the book, fellow Nouwen biographer, Michael J. Christensen, writes:

“Examining Nouwen’s own movements [of the spirit], Hernandez characterizes the spiritual journey as ‘a spirituality of imperfections’. By this he means a relational spirituality of intimacy with God and a faithful wrestling with God that gradually ripens into a mature communion or ‘completeness’ with the Divine; this, rather than a conforming spirituality of moral perfectionism and victory over sin that progressively takes on the characterological likeness to God’s perfect nature.” (x)

Having read much of Nouwen’s works, I can certainly see this quality in Hernandez’s writing and his interpretation of Nouwen. However, what strikes me as most prevalent in Hernandez’ writing is his repeated references to Nouwen’s early and unique contribution being to weave spirituality, psychology, ministry, and theology together in his writing (e.g. xiii). While perhaps prior biographers may have referenced this point, it was new to me and I found it helpful insight in understanding Nouwen and his contribution.

Wil Hernandez[3] lives and works in Southern California and teaches courses on the spirituality of Henri Nouwen at schools like Fuller Theological Seminary.  He writes in 5 chapters divided into 2 parts:

Part 1:  The Integrated Journey

ONE:  Journey Inward

TWO: Journey Outward

THREE: Journey Upward

 

Part 2: The Imperfect Journey

FOUR: Spirituality of Imperfection

FIVE: A Perfect Example of Imperfection

These chapters are preceded by a foreword, preface, acknowledgments, list of Nouwen works, and introduction. They are followed by a conclusion and notes.  No indices are included.

Wil Hernandez’s book, Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection is a helpful guide to Henri Nouwen’s many books and other writings. His focus is clearly on Nouwen’s spirituality and writing, but he also talks about Nouwen as a person. For example, although I had heard rumors about Nouwen sexual orientation, Hernandez was the first to mention in writing among my readings. Hernandez’ work is of obvious interest to Nouwen readings, especially seminarians and pastors.

In part 1 of this review, I have given an overview of the book.  In parts 2 and 3, I will look in more depth at Hernandez’ analysis of Nouwen and his writing.

[1] http://www.HenriNouwen.org/About_Henri/About_Henri.aspx

[2] http://www.larchedaybreak.com

[3] http://www.nouwenlegacy.com/author.php

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Prayer Day 41: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Espera verano 2015
Espera verano 2015

Father God. We praise you with songs our whole life long. We serve you gladly and enter your presence with singing. We remember that you are God: you made us; we belong to you; we are your people—the sheep of one shepherd. We come to church with thanksgiving and trust your judgment. Your praise fills our hearts and we bless your name. For you are good and your love never fails us—even as we, ourselves, pass away (Ps 100). In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Dios Padre, te alabamos con cánticos durante toda nuestra vida. Te serviremos con alegría y entramos a Tu presencia con regocijo. Recordamos que Tú eres Dios: Tu nos hiciste; te pertenecemos; somos Tu pueblo —el rebaño de un pastor. Venimos a la iglesia con acción de gracias y confiamos en Tu juicio. Tus alabanzas llenan nuestros corazones y bendecimos Tu nombre. Porque Tú eres bueno y Tu amor nunca nos falla —incluso cuando hemos fallecido (Sal. 100). En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo. Amén.

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Make Peace—Embody Shalom

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The seventh beatitude focuses on peacemaking. Here we move from tension with ourselves and tension with God to tension with others.  Peacemaking embodies them all.

What does it mean to be a peacemaker?

The absence of peace on earth begins with sin and its consequences. In response to Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve, God curses him with these words:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15 ESV)

The first example of peacemaking in scripture follows shortly thereafter and demonstrates God at work. We read:

“So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:5-7 ESV)

God sees Cain angry at his brother, Abel, and intervenes to reconcile them. God cautions Cain to get a handle on his own desires. In other words, Abel is not the problem. Cain ignores God; projects his anger on his brother; and kills him. Cain becomes an object of pity because he can neither control his emotions nor his behavior. Jesus himself uses this illustration later in the Sermon on the Mount where he links anger and murder (Matt 5:21-26).

Through this example in Genesis, we see God himself modeling peacemaking through self-control, advising how to avoid sin, and being available to help others. Notice how God’s intervention deals with the three sources of tension here: within ourselves, with God, and with other people! Peacemaking is according seen as a divine attribute and messianic title (Isaiah 9:6-7) which utilizes each of the three dimensions of spirituality. Peacemaking clearly embodies the Hebrew concept of shalom which encompasses each of these dimensions [1].

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002). The Greek word for shalom (εἰρήνη) has similar scope, but focuses more often on “concord, peace, harmony” (BDAG 2285). The English word, peace, is almost exclusively focused on the absence of war and needs to be modified to encompass shalom [2].

The Apostle Matthew understands the different aspects of shalom in Jesus’ teaching. Two are found in chapter 10 of his Gospel:

“And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matt. 10:13 ESV)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34 ESV)

Verse 13 builds on the Hebrew custom of saying both hello and goodbye with the word, shalom—if your hello does not stick, then take it with you when you leave! Verse 34 clearly focuses on the more political interpretation of shalom—peace. Peacemaking can be a positive or a negative attribute depending on the object [3]. Both were important in the Roman-occupied Palestine of the first century. Still, it is the Apostle John that most clearly captures the tension in shalom when he writes:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 ESV)

World peace in the first century meant Pax Romana which promised tranquility but delivered a brutal occupation.

Clearly, Jesus sees shalom and its embodiment, peacemaking, as transformative. In spite of the brutality of Roman occupation, Jesus commands them:

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:44-48 ESV)

Here we see the parallel between enemy love and peacemaking through the link to the promise—”so that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:45) which reads almost the same as: “sons [and daughters] of God” (Matt 5:9). The word, love (ἀγαπᾶτε), appears here in the imperative form. In order to treat an enemy as a brother, one needs to settle one’s heart, be faithful to God’s command, and practice shalom. Then and only then, will you be like your father in heaven and be able to transform your enemy into your friend.

Make peace—embody shalom.

 

[1] I am not the first to notice these three dimensions of peacemaking and relationship with shalom: “Peacemaking, therefore, is much more than a passive suffering to maintain peach or even ‘bridge-building’ or reconciling alienated parties. It is a demonstration of God’s love through Christ in all its profundity (John 3:16’ Rom 5:1 and 6-11). The peacemakers of 5:9 refers to those who, experiencing the shalom of God, become his agents establishing his peace in the world (Shcniewind, Matthaus 48).” Guelich (1982, 92).

[2] For example, we might talk about inner peace or peace and well-being, but peace itself is too narrow to compare with shalom.

[3] What is the object of the peace? Justice, wholeness, or maintenance of privilege? (Neyrey 1998, 184)

REFERENCES

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged. (BibleWorks)

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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Benner Cares Spiritually Through Dialogue—Part 2

Benner_review_08072015David G. Benner. 1998.  Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. (Goto part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

An important motive for writing my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality[1], was the observation that the current fascination with spirituality has neglected the traditional teaching of the church. The Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments outline the details of Christian spirituality, but the deeper insights in them have been lost. The idea, for example, that idolatry (forbidden in the Ten Commandments) involves setting anything other than God as the first priority in one’s life and is potentially life threatening seems lost on most Christians. The traditional teaching of the church defines Christian spirituality.

David Benner takes a similar approach. In his book, Care of Souls, he devotes essentially the first half of his book—Part 1: Understanding Soul Care—to defining the boundaries of soul care—what it is and what it is not.

For example, Benner’s definition of Christian spirituality has 9 points.  Christian spirituality:

  1. “Begins with a response of the call of Spirit to spirit
  2. Is rooted in a commitment to Jesus and a transformational approach to life
  3. Is nurtured by the means of grace
  4. Involves a deep knowing of Jesus and, through him, the Father and the Spirit
  5. Requires a deep knowing of oneself
  6. Leads to the realization of the unique self whom God ordained we should be
  7. Is uniquely developed within the context of suffering
  8. Is manifest by a sharing of the goodness of God’s love with others and in care for his creation
  9. Expresses that goodness in celebration in Christian community” (95).

Instead of leaning on church teaching in his definition as I had, Benner prefers to capture the essence of Christian spirituality in his own words.

Capturing the essence of Christian spirituality is surprisingly hard work.  For example, In my own walk point 5 was the most surprising. If we are indeed the temple of God’s Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20), then it should be obvious. But I did not understand the importance of self-care in caring for others until I was well into seminary.  The lesson here is that we must each struggle to define and refine our understanding of God and ourselves.

Part of the reason spiritual development is hard work is that our whole person—conscious and unconscious—is involved[1]. Benner sees our conscious self as the self of “thought, volition, and behavior” (159)—a kind of aspirational self. The unconscious self is basically everything else—stuff not chosen (or not admitted) but nevertheless part of us.  In this sense, Benner writes: “Religion is the achievement of the consciousness; spirituality is the gift of the unconscious.” (160) Working on the unconscious (or shadow) side of our personality according frees us and leaves us better integrated persons, but it also means that we must probe deeply into aspects of our history and life that we have worked hard to suppress from others, but successfully suppressed mostly from ourselves.

The bondage that we experience from our history primarily inhabits our unconscious.

I remember clearly an incident one morning the hospital emergency department in 2012. I met with a young woman who had recently lost a pregnancy in a spontaneous abortion. During the first 20 minutes of our conversation, we connected and the visit went well. Pretty soon, however, we began experiencing a role reversal. I was no longer ministering to her; she was ministering to me. Visiting with her reminded me of a pregnancy that my wife, Maryam, and I had lost about 20 years prior that I had not properly grieved. Emotions welled up in me that I was entirely unaware of. I had to break off my visit with young woman and I ended up in the chapel in tears for a good long spell. My unresolved pain in losing a child prevented me from ministering properly to the woman in the emergency department.

Uncovering repressed grief is not easy.  In talking about such spiritual work, Benner writes:

“To be useful for psychospiritual growth, journal writing needs to focus on inner life, that is, on such things as feelings, fantasies, reactions, intuitions, vagrant thoughts, troubling attitudes or behaviors, and puzzling experiences.” (163)

Benner is particularly interested in dreams which have the potential to connect us with our unconscious selves.  He compares an unexamined dream to an unopened letter (173).

A lot more could be said about this book.

David Benner’s Care of Souls is an interesting and transformative text. I highly recommend this book to pastors, other Christian care givers, and Christians who want to be spiritually sensitive in their ministry and open to their own spiritual development.

Questions: Have you ever been hijacked by an unconscious emotion?  How did you respond? Do you feel that it constrained your conscious choices?

[1] A friend of mine is fond of saying:  wherever you go, you show up!

[1] For details about my book see: http://wp.me/p4iojd-2m.

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Benner Cares Spiritually Through Dialogue—Part 1

Benner_review_08072015David G. Benner. 1998.  Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. (Goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One distinctive of biblical faith is that each human being is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). One practical implication of this image doctrine is that when you speak with someone, it is like speaking to God himself.  In fact, many times God speaks to us through the people around us. A second practical implication is that each and every human has intrinsic value in the eyes of God[1].  Between the hint of the divine and this intrinsic value, everyone has an interesting story to tell—if one takes the time to listen.

In his book, Care of Souls, David Benner implicitly understands and accepts the doctrine of the image.  He writes:

“Care refers to actions that are designed to support the well-being of something or someone. Cure refers to actions that are designed to restore well-being that has been lost.” (21)

One only cares for something of value.  In this case, we are talking about souls which he defines as:

“soul as referring to the whole person, including the body, but with particular focus on the inner world of thinking, feeling, and willing.” (22)

This is the Hebrew understanding of soul (nefesh or נַפְשִׁ֖י) which is quite distinct from the Greek understanding from Plato which divided a person into body and soul[1], which were truly divided (11).

This body and soul unity is important in Benner’s thinking especially when he delves into the distinction between the conscious and non-conscious parts of our inner life.  He writes:

“Caring for souls is caring for people in ways that not only acknowledge them as persons but also engage and address them in the deepest and most profoundly human aspects of their lives.  This is the reason for the priority of the spiritual and psychological aspects of the person’s inner world in soul care.” (23)

While the cure of souls focuses on remedy for sin; care of souls focuses on the need for spiritual growth (28).

Benner sees 4 elements in care of souls:

  1. Healing—“helping others overcome some impairment and move towards wholeness”,
  2. Sustaining—“acts of caring designed to help a hurting person endure and transcend” a challenging situation,
  3. Reconciling—“efforts to reestablish broken relationships”, and
  4. Guiding—“helping people make wise choices and thereby grow in spiritual maturity” (31-32)

I used to use the analogy of two soccer players working with each other to succeed in their game play and taking care of each other.

Benner offers 6 helpful principles (he calls them conclusions) defining soul care. “Christian soul care”…

  1. “is something that we do for each other, not to ourselves.”
  2. “operates within a moral context.”
  3. “is concerned about community not just individuals.”
  4. “is normally provided through the medium of dialogue within the context of a relationship.”
  5. “does not focus on some narrow spiritual aspect of personality but addresses the whole person.”
  6. “is much too important to be restricted to the clergy or any other single group of people.”

 This last point is important—the idea of Christian friends is fundamental in Christian discipling. In fact, the first book by Benner that I read and reviewed was focused on this point[2].

Another key point is that the focus in care of souls is on dialogue between equals before God.  Benner distinguishes 4 types of interpersonal discourse:

  1. Debate“a civilized form of combat…has a focus and implicit rules that encourage participants to stick to the understood topic”. (134)
  2. Discussion“involves the advocacy of ideas and positions with resulting winners and losers” .(134)
  3. Conversation“involve the exchange not just of facts and arguments but also of feelings, values, and construals” but not to the extent and with the mutual trust required for a dialogue. (135)
  4. Dialogue“shared inquiry that is designed to increase awareness, understanding, and insight” among mutually trusting individuals. (131)

This focus on dialogue distinguishes soul care from psychiatric care where true dialogue is not possible, in part, because the talking is more of doctor-patient conversation between two parties that are inherently not equal. Dialogue is the preferred discourse in soul care because healing, sustaining, reconciling, and guiding are able to take place only when trust is present.

Dr. David Benner works and lives in Canada.  He describes himself as: “an internationally known depth psychologist, wisdom teacher, transformational coach, and author whose life’s work has been directed toward helping people walk the human path in a deeply spiritual way and the spiritual path in a deeply human way.”  He has held numerous faculty positions and written about 30 books [4].

Benner writes in 11 chapters divided into 2 parts.  These chapters are:

Part 1:  Understanding Soul Care

  1. What is Soul Care?
  2. The Rise of Therapeutic Soul Care
  3. The Boundaries of the Soul
  4. Psychology and Spirituality
  5. Christian Spirituality

Part 2:  Giving and Receiving Soul Care

  1. The Psychospiritual Focus and Soul Care
  2. Dialogue in Soul Care
  3. Dreams, the Unconscious, and the Language of the Soul
  4. Forms of Christian Soul Care
  5. Challenges of Christian Soul Care
  6. Receiving Soul Care

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction.  They are followed by notes and a topical index.

David Benner’s Care of Souls is a transformative text.  Although some of these ideas here appear elsewhere, many of the discussions are uniquely Benner. For example, Benner goes a lot further than many authors in offering a theological underpinning to soul care, integrates the therapeutic ideas better than other authors into his care, and spends more time in explaining the usefulness and uniqueness of dialogue.  I highly recommend this book to pastors, other Christian care givers, and Christians who want to be spiritually sensitive in their ministry.

In part 1 of this review, I have given an overview of Benner’s book.  In part 2, I will dig deeper into some of his more interesting ideas.

Question: Do you think that soul care is possible outside of a therapeutic relationship?  Why or why not?

 

[1] This intrinsic value provides the philosophical foundation for human rights. In the absence of this theological doctrine, the secular interest in human rights is a philosophical orphan easily forgotten.

[2] Or body, mind, and soul.

[3] See (Benner 2003) Also see review:  Benner Points to God (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-u3)

[4] www.DrDavidGBenner.ca

REFERENCES

Benner, David G. 2003.  Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction.  Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

 

 

 

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Prayer Day 40: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Espera verano 2015
Espera verano 2015

Loving Father. You clothe the birds that neither spin or reap (Matt 6:26). You send the rain and the sunshine on the just and the unjust without discrimination (Matt 5:45). You make the day and the night to bless us with activities and with sleep (Gen 1:5). We cast our obsessions and addictions at your feet. In the power of your Holy Spirit, heal our relationships and soften our hearts that we might grow more like you with each passing day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Amoroso, vistes las aves que ni siegan ni recogen (Mt. 6:25-26). Envías el sol y la lluvia sobre justos e injustos sin discriminación (Mt. 5:5). Haces el día y la noche para bendecirnos con actividades y sueños (Gén. 1:5). Lanzamos nuestras obsesiones y adicciones a Tus pies. En el poder del Espíritu Santo, sana nuestras relaciones y suaviza nuestros corazones para que podamos crecer más como Tú cada día. En el nombre de Jesús oramos. Amén.

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